The Colonel came out of retirement to make KFC at the Kedzie Inn.
OK, Thom Padanilam does not have an honorific title from the Indian state of Kerala. Someday, probably, but for now he’s back in the game as the boss man of Thommy’s Toddy Shop, the pandemic-born Malayali food pop-up and podi peddler he ran from the carryout window at Superkhana International. Yes, he’s back, and he’s bringing his soon-to-be legendary curried buttermilk-brined Keralan fried chicken, lashed with red four-chili chutney, to the next Monday Night Foodball, the Reader’s weekly chef pop-up in Irving Park.
Padanilam has been out of sight over the last year, on a personal journey to sharpen his kitchen skills on the line at Kasama, the West Town Filipino bakery and fine dining restaurant that everybody says—between mouthfuls of longaniza and lumpia—is one of the best spots in the country.
“I got my ass kicked for a year,” says Padanilam. “And I learned a lot and gained a lot of confidence as a cook.” Lately he’s been quietly helping Ben Lustbader and Sarah Mispagel open their forthcoming Loaf Lounge bakery, where he’ll have the time and space to reclaim his throne as the South Indian Condiment King of Chicago.
But last month he burst back onto the scene at a South Asian comedy showcase, serving dishes inspired by each performer. And this Monday he’ll be perfuming the 4100 block of N. Kedzie with the garam masala-scented beef patties he learned to make from a celebrated patty authority—his mom—and serving them with Maggi-spiked banana ketchup.
He’s also layering Pizza Finestra focaccia with whipped labneh and the season’s first cherry tomatoes, bathed in a confit with chickpeas, and powered by podi, the intoxicating Malayali seasoning he built his name on. This one never made it into the Toddy Shop; it’s a rasam powder, the peppery, chilied, dal-based spice blend that fuels the ubiquitous tomato soup that accompanies every South Indian meal.
And he’s harnessing the very peak of the season, adding grilled corn, peaches, carrots, and zucchini into a summer ishtu, a coconut- and yogurt-based veggie stew. To finish, he’s transformed payasam, the sweet, jiggly, warm pudding, into a cool, refreshing paleta, kissed with cardamon and mined with berries and nuts.
And of course there’s a cocktail special: Jon Pokorny will be mixing up a sparkling Padanilam potion of mezcal, mango puree, and ginger pickle.
But that fried chicken, though: Inspired by Atlanta chef Asha Gomez, it’s brined in buttermilk infused with curry leaves, ginger, and garlic; fried crispy; and lashed with chutney whipped with melted ghee into what he describes as a South Indian Buffalo Sauce.
Pre-orders for this sumptuous South Indian feast are open right now, via the Thommy’s Toddy Shop Tock site, but if you can’t yet commit, Padanilam is making extra for walk-ins. It all starts at 5 PM at the Kedzie Inn, 4100 N. Kedzie, this Monday, August 1.
Meanwhile, scroll down, gaze upon, and dream of the summer’s remaining Foodballs. Fall dates are coming soon.